New Life for a Columbian Woodworking Vise #3: Disassembly, Rust Removal & Cleaning

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Blog entry by hhhopks posted 03-04-2012 12:27 AM 14403 reads 2 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 2: Will it turn? Part 3 of New Life for a Columbian Woodworking Vise series Part 4: The Paint Job »

This is part of III of the blog series where the vise is disassembled and cleaned.

I would like to take the vise apart, however it looks like I have to take a compromise. I decided to disassemble the vise as much possible. Once the pin at the rear of the vise was tapped out, I was able to tap the rear guide plate out.

Once that is out, the back jaw assembly slides out easily. Now you could clearly see the threaded shoe. I also noticed there is a spring on the front end of the shoe. Surprisingly it was a simple nail that was used as a guide for the spring to hold everything in place.

Since I can’t readily replace the pin on the hub of handle, the main screw and handle of the hub portion were left intact to the front jaw assembly.

I tried loosening the nuts of the guide rods. Unfortunately the entire rod turns as well. I was tempted to put a channel lock on the guide rod, but decided that I don’t want to take a chance of damaging it. The guide rods were left attached with front jaw assembly same as the main screw. I elected not to do the spring and nail as I didn’t see any rust on it.

I didn’t make any more effort in disassembly beyond this point.

Rust Removal:

I have chosen electrolysis as my method of removing rust. There are plenty of posts on this topic, so I won’t repeat it here. The materials that I gather included:

  1. 12 Vdc charger with leads.
  2. Plastic concrete mixing tub (holds about 9 gallon & will fit a size 8 plane in it).
  3. Miscellaneous strained copper wires (#10 to #16 awg).
  4. Measuring spoon.
  5. Washing soda.

I already have these materials so I didn’t have to spend anything. The wires that I have were previously used on other rust removal projects. Some has little clamps on them. I could only use it on the shoe, pin, and the rear guide plate. For the rest of the vise components, I simply tightly wrap bare wires around the metal (not the best method but seems to be adequate). The vise components are hooked up to the negative lead while the sacrificial metal (short piece of rebar) is hook up to the positive lead of the charger (off). Oh yea, you really should do this in a well-ventilated area. The process generates hydrogen gas.

Not certain of the capacity of my charger and with limited wires, I elected to do task in several batches. I started with the front jaw assembly with the guide rods and main screw. I also included the shoe in the first batch. I got everything wire up and placed in the tub before adding the water. Because of the height of the front jaw, I have to fill it all the way up. The top portion of the jaw is sticking out just a bit, so I carefully top it off without to avoid clean up the mess. Next, I sprinkled the washing soda (little over 1 tea spoon per gallon) over the tub. It was definitely not a scientific measurement. Water was steered to ensure the washing soda dissolves, and turn power on for the charger. A minute or so I can see little bubbles rising from the metal parts.

I really don’t have a method to gauge how much time is needed. I would think it is a combination of voltage, current, metal surface area, concentration of the electrolyte, and the surface area of the sacrificial metal. It is too complicated for me. I did notice that the rate of bubble rising is fairly frequent even after 12 hours, so I elected to wait it out. After the rising bubbles have subsided the components were removed and wire brushed to remove the black looking residue. Scrub, scrub, scrub, scrub….. rinse, rinse,rinse….. Now the screw was a challenge. I scrub the screw along the spiral of the threads. More scrub/rinse/scrub/rinse……….

I used a heat gun to dry the front jaw with the threaded and guide rods. You can clearly see a lite rust forming as the parts are being dry! I have seen this before when cleaning planes. After drying it I spray the entire surface with WD40. I use scotchbrite to scrub additional surface that seems to be more stubborn. I found a few burs on the vise and use a file gently filed it away. Overall it went pretty well. The threaded rod and guide rods shine quite well.

Basically I repeated the process for the remaining batches. It was really uneventful.Here are what the components look like after it has been cleaned.

I am concern about the burr marks on the main screw. It appears to be from the shoe. There is really no way of removing it. Is it part of the flaw in the design of this quick release vise? We’ll have to wait on how it may impact on the functionality.

Overall, it looked pretty good.

I’ll need to start thinking about the paint job. The original paint (now look “Gray”) actually doesn’t look bad. There are no flakes or chips. However, I think a fresh coat of paint would be good. Especially for the back jaw and the rear guide plate.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

7 comments so far

View NormG's profile


6378 posts in 3246 days

#1 posted 03-04-2012 02:14 AM

What a great new life for this vice

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2932 days

#2 posted 03-04-2012 02:19 AM

If you are collecting these I saw one on Tulsa, Ok CL tonight. It looks to be in slightly better shape than yours when you started. Yours is looking very shiney now. That looks like a LOT of effort. Are these valuable when restored?

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View DIYaholic's profile


19752 posts in 2917 days

#3 posted 03-04-2012 04:37 AM

Those parts came out looking good. I’ve never tried electrolysis, something I need to look into. I have irons from a wooden plane that need TLC. Thanks for showing/explaining the process.

Looking forward to more progress & to see it in action!!!

-- Randy-- I may not be good...but I am slow! If good things come to those who wait.... Why is procrastination a bad thing?

View hhhopks's profile


654 posts in 2619 days

#4 posted 03-04-2012 09:18 AM

Once you are setup with a power supply/charger, it believe electrolysis is cheaper. It cleans pretty well.
All the rust remove options pretty much all will leave black residue which requires farther scrubbing. There are many post on LJ on this topic already.

I am not sure what the collecting value on these things. The only benchmark is EB and catalog equivalent. EB shipping will add significant to the cost. Catalog prices are high. I paid $25.00 for mine. Many will argue the old ones are better. Right? It is subject to debate.

-- I'll be a woodworker when I grow up. HHHOPKS

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2932 days

#5 posted 03-05-2012 01:56 AM

You did good. They want $99 for the one on CL!

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View davidroberts's profile


1027 posts in 3728 days

#6 posted 03-18-2012 09:10 PM

Great find. Glad you are taking the time to restore it properly.

FYI, if you are still looking for a link that has quite a few examples and pictures of old woodworking vice restoration by aficionados, plus a possible manufacture date, go to

Look around, do a search, or just post a question with pictures. Those guys are a great resource and happy to share their knowledge. Wilton bought Columbian, and Wilton was purchased by the Swiss firm that owns Powermatic, Jet, and some others. Your vise shows made in Cleveland, so probably pre-Wilton buyout.

Of course, you can always do a google search for columbian vise restoration or combination of, and get some leads. Thanks for sharing.

-- Better woodworking through old hand tools.

View steliart's profile


2893 posts in 2930 days

#7 posted 04-13-2012 06:28 PM

very very cool, thanks

-- Stelios L.A. Stavrinides: - I am not so rich to buy cheap tools, but... necessity is the mother of inventions !!!

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